Olympic National Park 1969
By Richard Tarnutzer
In July 1969, while the first man was walking on the moon, I was driving my ’64 El Camino from southern California to Port Angeles, Washington to participate as a volunteer with the Student Conservation Association. I was right out of High School, seventeen and just months away from registering with the draft board for the Vietnam War. Back then we weren’t so tethered to our parents by cell phones, the internet or GPS. Staying out of trouble required some small degree of skill to make good decisions on our own. Otherwise, we’d run out of gas, go hungry or get lost. With those possibilities the next three weeks was going to be a great adventure.
On July 25th, fifteen high school boys arrived in Port Angeles from all across the United States. They came from Texas, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Vermont, Tennessee, New York, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Washington…….all on their own. No parents dropped them off.
Our group of volunteers was the second of two such high school boys to work on the “new” Hayes River Patrol Cabin. The first group started the work in late June or early July by clearing a building site next to the “old” cabin that was originally built in the late 1800’s. The building site was located 17 miles from the trailhead of Whiskey Bend.
When our group arrived at the cabin site on July 26th, we found the cabin foundation (built of river boulders) all done and the first three or four courses of logs for the walls were in place. That was it. There were no doors or windows. It was just a huge, topless log box four feet high. In our youthful joking we called it the “Elephant Pit”, not realizing then all the effort it would take to finish the cabin.
We had a lot to do. We had no idea what was involved in finishing the cabin and two weeks back then seemed like we had forever to finish.
Besides the fifteen boy volunteers there was our adult leader Jack Dolstad, his wife, their 11 year old son and teenage daughter, her three friends, Jack Miletich ( a Park Ranger who was the only one who knew how to build a cabin) and two college volunteers who had worked in the high school program previously. With so many different individuals one would assume there would need to be a Conflict Resolution Counselor on hand to keep the peace. In reality, the opposite was the case. Everyone worked extremely well together.
Building the cabin was hard work. Felling the trees (chain saws). Dressing the logs by de-limbing and skinning the bark off them was done with hand tools a lot of us had never handled before. Everyone was involved in carrying the logs back to the cabin site. Olympic is a very dense forest. It is said that 90% of lost hikers are never found. So, getting the logs out took a lot of time and effort. Carrying the fresh cut slippery logs over and under fallen trees, through streams and primeval terrain was exhausting work……..but fun!
Here are a few excerpts from the project’s journal written by different boys anonymously:
Worked on the cabin, felled some more trees and carried them down with Swedes and put them into place……..We ruined the Elephant Pit by cutting the doorway in it.
We cut more trees and hauled them. We put up some roof logs and worked on the windows. Some of the guys pulled the old cabin down. Swam again. Jeff Sepesi caught two Dolly Varden trout.
We hauled more logs and made shakes from Cedar which was lying across Hayes River. Some of the guys packed them back to the cabin with the horses.
We made more shakes-had to go in the river after log sections. We completed putting up the stringers and nailed the ridgepole into place. In the afternoon we went a mile down the Elwha for a parachute drop of supplies. Really roughing it, we had ice cream dropped in, which we had to cut with splitting wedges.
Today it was cloudy and we worked hard shaking the roof so that the new flooring wouldn’t get wet and warp. The heavy work was over so we just had the finishing work-bunks, windows, stove, chinking.
By August 6th we had finally finished the cabin and had the site cleaned up. Everyone, except us fifteen boys, Jack and his young son and one of the college assistants, hiked out to the Whiskey Bend trailhead. The rest of us headed deeper into the park on a five day backpack that would take us to Low Divide, the Skyline Trail and eventually out to the Pacific Ocean via the Beach 3 Trail.
But, that is the short version of our hike from the Hayes cabin to the Pacific. Along the way Jack sprained his ankle and had to be airlifted out by helicopter from above tree line. And that left us boys to hike out twenty five miles on our own. Also, one evening we were hiking just at dusk through a herd of Roosevelt Elk that stood perfectly still watching us humans walk through their midst.
We hated to see the last day of our trip end. All the guys here have become buddies that we’ll remember forever, whether we ever see or hear from them again. And the girls have become almost like sisters (unfortunately). This program has really served its purpose in that it impressed on us the real value of parks and people. Thanks to all involved.
Forty five years later the appreciation is still deeply felt. Not just for the unique working experience but now more so for the people experience. For the great adults that herded us youth and for the youth that became real “buddies” while having a great summer adventure.
STUDENT CONSERVATION PROGRAM
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
|Kenneth Armstrong, TX||Phillip Henry, Ohio||William Ross, Conn|
|Michael Beardslee, Mich||Timothy Hunt, Vt||Jeffery Sepesi, Ohio|
|Van Brinkerhoff, TX||Douglas Hulbut, Ca||Richard Tarnutzer, Ca|
|Rodney Daniels, Mont||Roger Johnson, Tenn||Tom Van Deen, Wa|
|Robert Forsythe, TX||Robert Markeloff, N.Y.||Robert Wheeler, N.Y.|
|Supervisors:||Supervisor’s Assistant||Student Assistant|
|Jack & Enid Dolstad, Wa||John Spring, Wa||Alex Felton, Mass|
|Fred Miletich, Ca|
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